Sexual Integrity Messages Must Improve as Marriage Age Increases

By Jason Soucinek 

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I didn’t marry until I was 34.

To some this seems old. Others think this is the perfect age to marry. Either way, I am not alone in the trend of marrying later in life.

For the last several years the age at which people get married is getting older, and fewer individuals are getting married altogether. 

This is not because this generation doesn’t want to get married; data continues to reveal high numbers of individuals who still want to marry later in life as a capstone to other achievements like education or career. However, when you couple this information with the fact that the marriage rate is at an all time low, hovering around 50% (compared to 72% in 1960), you can begin to understand the difficulty of speaking on sexual integrity.

Delayed adulthood, cohabitation, changing attitudes about sex, and a Christian culture mostly unwilling to talk about sex and sexuality are some of the many reasons sexual integrity has become a virtually defunct practice. Even among self-identifying Christians, our views of God’s intent for sex have shifted, leaving us in a place of little clear understanding about what to do with our bodies and how to speak honestly about sex.

Sexual integrity needs to be more than just a message about keeping your pants on.

For years the church has simply responded to the culture’s definition of sex. American culture says, “Do whatever you want, with whomever you want, whenever you want.” So what has the church done? It’s responded by saying, “Just wait.” But this is only responding to the definition set forth by the culture and not giving the definition from Scripture.

The definition of sex found in Scripture is based on “oneness” with our spouse. This is seen in verses all the way from Genesis through Revelation. Sex is meant to unify. In fact, when it says in Genesis 2:24 the “two will become one flesh” it is literally saying the two will be fused together, creating this “oneness.”

Procreation, pleasure, and protection all need to be part of the conversations surrounding sex in the church.

Often we are willing to talk about the power of sex as it relates to new life. But why are we afraid to talk about the pleasure associated with it?

Pleasure is not something Scripture hides from and neither should we. Our God is a God of pleasure. We see this in the first verses in the first chapter of the first book in Scripture, Genesis 1, when God declares creation (and thus sex) was “very good.”

Scripture also reveals sex has boundaries but these boundaries exist for our own protection. Because sex has the power to create life and fuse two people together, it requires protection. That is one reason we have marriage. It acts as a crucible.

Clear and consistent dialogue, not a list of restrictions, are needed for sexual integrity to be practiced more often.

Maybe you’ve seen some of the data suggesting young adults are leaving the church in droves. Although I don’t see it quite this way I do recognize a frustration with established religion, particularly when it comes to the attitudes the church communicates regarding sex.

Recently I was listening to a podcast from the show This American Life. The episode was a discussion about collected date showing people’s mindsets changing over the course of a 20-minute conversation. The reason for the change was simple: the parties involved had vulnerable and honest dialogue.

Most of the young adults I speak with are filled with frustration because few people are willing to have difficult conversations about our culture’s view of sex and sexuality. However, I’ve found taking time to listen leads to better and more in-depth conversations, which give opportunity to reveal God’s grand design as the sex-maker.

Let’s have more vulnerable and honest dialogue and make sexual integrity a part of the culture in our churches once again.

Expert Says Casual Sex Doesn’t Exist

By Jason Soucinek 

Who says sex can’t be just sex? And who says casual sex has any impact on individuals or relationships?

Oh wait, I do! And so does biological anthropologist (and sex expert) Helen Fisher in the video below.

For years Project Six19 has spoken about how sex is never just sex. Now science has proven this in more ways than one. Specifically, science is showing there is no such thing as casual sex.

Sex stimulates areas of the human brain that are linked to love and attachment.

Dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin flood our largest sex organ during sex. And no, your largest sex organ is not your genitalia (sorry, Donald Trump). It’s your brain! These neurochemicals create feelings of trust, protection, and bonding.

This needs to be the conversation we are having about sex. In fact, it reinforces the very verse we find in Scripture: “The two will become one flesh.” Often we fail to remember that God was the sex-maker. He gave purpose and design to this wonderful gift. He gave us sexual desire and pleasure. But He also gave us a time and place to experience sex as a means of protection for our hearts and minds – marriage.

Casual sex doesn’t exist! Don’t believe me? Check out the video below:

A Kiss Is Not A Contract, So You Better DTR

By Amy Juran

In an attempt to stay chill and keep things from getting too serious, we tend to shy away from labelling our relationships.

In reality, having a good DTR (defining the relationship) is incredibly healthy for everyone involved.

There is a natural period of time when we get to know someone and spend time with that person to find out if they are someone we could imagine dating. It can be awkward to finally start that conversation of “So…what are we doing here?”

No one wants to come across as clingy or needy, but it is perfectly natural to desire to know where you stand with another person. Just because you talk, look, and act like you’re dating doesn’t necessarily grant either of you the confidence to feel fully secure.

Here are four benefits that can come with taking the leap and starting the talk:

1.) Impart value on the other person

Putting a label on a relationship is a declaration of how you feel about the other person. When you are willing to make it official, you are placing value on a person that not only builds their confidence but imparts an affectionate commitment. If the other person gets the feeling you are hesitant for whatever reason, it can cause them to wonder if they are doing something wrong. But if you can respect them enough to open up and share your desire to be in a relationship, you are letting this person know you see them as more than a casual “hang out buddy” and as someone you wish to pursue with the integrity of a commitment.

2.) Build your own confidence and self worth

So much of how we view our self worth is derived from how other people treat us, whether we realize it or not. The desire to have clarity regarding your role in someone’s life doesn’t make you overly sensitive; it gives you the confidence to live into that role fully!

When we are unsure of how another person feels about us we tend to approach situations with hesitancy and can internalize our true feelings. But when we know that either yes, this person wants to be committed to me, or no, they only desire a platonic relationship, we have the choice to proceed with assurance or to even distance ourselves from this person.

In trying to show another person we care, it is important we don’t forget our own value. In not wanting to push the conversation because we don’t want to make the other person feel uncomfortable, we cannot diminish the importance of creating for ourselves.

3.) Avoid Confusion

Relationships can be so hard to navigate, even for couples who have been together for years, so it is only natural that newer relationships come with their own type of confusion as they blossom.

If you have been hanging out with someone and aren’t sure whether it’s the right time to have the talk, you can ask yourself, “What is keeping me from wanting to have an open conversation about this?” You might be surprised by the answers that arise. If you aren’t feeling good about the situation for whatever reason, this may be a sign you should rethink being with this person at all. Sometimes avoiding the DTR is a way of avoiding the clear reasons why you shouldn’t be together.

Opening up and seeing where the other person stands is the best way to relieve anxiety or confusion, and to protect yourself from becoming too attached to someone who doesn’t share the same affection.

4.). Establish physical boundaries

The DTR is the perfect time to set physical boundaries. It’s like laying down the ground rules before you start a game! Without the initial check in, it can be easy to think you’re just friends, and it would be weird to bring it up. However, it’s unlikely when you’re in the heat of the moment with the person you’re interested in, you will stop to analyze if your actions are attached to any sort of lasting commitment.  By talking with each other about how intimate you want to be, you can lessen the likelihood of misinterpreted actions and can trust one another to hold to what you mutually decided.  On the flip side, living in ambiguity is the surest way to end up in a situation that you don’t want to be in, so set the boundaries.

Take the leap. Define the relationship. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you ever been in a situation where you wish you had defined the relationship better? 

The Importance of Nonsexual Touch

By Amy Juran, Writing Assistant Intern

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I think we underestimate the value of nonsexual touch.

It can be so easy to overlook all of the benefits we can glean from giving and receiving affection in ways as simple as a hug or a soft pat on the back. It’s these simple interactions that can really tighten the bonds of our friendships and build trust between us. I think we associate touch so strongly with romantic relationships that we overlook the times people reached out a hand in comfort, and in doing so, we miss out on an amazing resource that we have in times of need.

It can actually be pretty risky to reserve physical touch purely for intimacy, the downfall being that our bodies need physical touch for edification, not just from a lover, but simply from people that we love. When we associate touch as a primarily sexual thing, we build up a huge storehouse of repressed physical desire that can get carried away when we are put in a romantic situation. The thought occurred to me that maybe if we recognize the value of nonsexual touch in our plutonic relationships and friendships, it might displace some of the craving that our hearts have for physical intimacy, and our romantic relationships might be healthier and less focused on the physical aspect.

Verbal affirmation can do so much for us, and kind words can heal all sorts of hurt, but nothing quite compares to a kind embrace for comfort. Conversations become memories with that little slip of an arm into the crook of an elbow as friends walk through the park, or the firm grasp of both arms in excitement. My favorite endearing gesture: the hand grab. You know, when you and a friend are in the midst of an intentional conversation and you both connect on something or share a nice, deep, gut laugh, and to seal the moment one of you clasps the other’s hand with a tight squeeze. It’s such a beautiful, heartfelt impulse.

We need more hand grabs in the world​.

Nonsexual touch tends to have almost this supernatural power to ease tension and anxiety. It seems almost impossible to remain stressed after I’ve confided in a loved one and they just wrap me up. It’s like there is a displacement of energy that happens where they take a bit of my burden and I get relief in return. And when we extend this comfort and kindness even to people we don’t know very well, we heal wounds and bridge gaps we never imagined. In Column McCan’s book, Let the Great World Spin, he paints a beautiful picture of a crowd all gathered around the spectacle of a man tightrope walking between two buildings. He describes how “perfect strangers touched one another on the elbows.” It’s a beautiful image, and McCan clearly understands the magic that happens when people draw near to each other in moments of chaos or panic. Any number of causes can bring us together, but it’s that simple touch and connection that really forms a bond.

One individual who immediately comes to mind when I think of extending a kind touch to strangers is Pope Francis. On multiple occasions he is seen publicly embracing beggars, kissing children, reaching out to anyone and everyone. It seems like he doesn’t have the capacity to pull away when he sees someone to care for, and he is a beautiful example of how opening our arms can build people up and make them feel affirmed.

Pope Francis hugs a child as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican June 19, 2013.   REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini     (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

Pope Francis hugs a child as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (VATICAN – Tags: RELIGION)

Physical touch is something I truly struggle with, because it forces me to be vulnerable. It’s not necessarily second nature for me to reach out for a hug, even with my family, not to mention an acquaintance I hardly know. I tend to be more like a stiff board when it comes to nurturing and embracing. But every time someone else extends the gesture, it’s such a comfort. There’s almost an empowering effect, and an unspoken understanding of closeness that can truly boost my confidence. I think if we all dug deep into the innermost cravings of our souls, we would all arrive at nearly the same place: the desire to feel loved. And I say ​feel​ loved versus be loved, because it’s easy to assume that people know we love them, but when we reach out and touch, when we declare in a tangible way how much they mean to us, that’s when they truly feel validated.

Non-sexual touch can not only enhance our relationships, but I think our bodies need it. Instead of saving our physical contact just for our significant others, we should work towards being generous with our touch towards friends, family, and even strangers. When we arrive at a place where we love people, and are willing to care for them in our hearts and with our words, it can really make a difference to take one step further, and extend a hand or a kind embrace.

4 Big Questions You Need to Ask About Your Relationship

By Julia Feeser

Love is, most definitely, blind.

I dated my high school boyfriend, Tony, for ten months. We had been together approximately four months when my parents invited him over for dinner. We chatted and laughed (as much as two dating 16-year-olds can comfortably chat and laugh when parents are present), and in my opinion the dinner went great.

But after Tony left my mom turned to me and said, “That Tony’s kind of a know-it-all, isn’t he?”

Suddenly, I could see she was absolutely right. Tony did have a tendency to share his wealth of knowledge about, well, anything. My mother had noticed it immediately. I, so taken with Tony’s guitar-playing and adorable braces, had not.

Tony’s somewhat know-it-all personality was certainly not a deal-breaker in our relationship. But it’s true that when we have deep feelings for someone we tend to overlook or simply not see certain things about our significant other and thus potential problems within our relationship. Our affection and nearness to the relationship can easily “blind” us to things that may not be functioning well or need attention. When this happens it’s difficult to see what may appear obvious to others.

This is why it’s so important to invite trusted people into our relationships. I don’t mean they have to join you on dates or read your texts to each other, but allowing a trusted friend or adult to see and know your relationship is crucial to maintaining a healthy love life.

Giving someone else insight into your dating relationship allows him or her to see both the good and bad and thus give you honest feedback about how they see the relationship going. However, this is not always an easy thing.

Asking for someone’s honest opinion on anything in our lives can be difficult, but this can be especially true when it comes to romantic relationships. We don’t always want to know if there is something in our relationship that may need fixing or, worst of all, may be a deal-breaker. But knowing these things help us see our relationships in an honest way and thus know how to make the best decisions for ourselves and our significant others.

Before you run out and start asking everyone’s opinion about your relationship, make sure you deliberately find someone you trust. Know whose opinions are of value and come from a place of truth and love. It’s all right to be picky about who you let into something as significant as your relationship.

Here are four big questions you need to ask about your relationship:

  1.  Do you think this person fits me well? Do we have personalities, lifestyles and values that work well together? Am I accommodating anything about this person that could potentially become more difficult down the road?
  2. Do you see anything about this relationship that is unhealthy? How do you see us handling things like communication, quality time or physicality?
  3. Am I being myself? When I am around this person, do you see me being fully myself or am I acting in a way I think will get this person to like me most?
  4. Am I showing this person the love/attention/respect they deserve? Pretty self-explanatory.

We’re not always capable of seeing things other may notice in our relationships, both good and bad. But seeking an honest and healthy relationship starts with having a clear (and willing) perspective.

An honest and true life builds honest relationships

Our Development Coordinator and Administrative Assistant, Holly, shares her take on the benefits of vulnerable living:

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Growing up, I had a lot of anxiety and when I was overwhelmed the last thing I wanted to do was share how I was feeling.

When my sister would ask me to talk about it with her, I would close up and could feel myself bursting at the seams. But in the end, if I didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And that for me was the easy way out at the time.

I think the reason why it is difficult to tell our stories and connect with others is because we haven’t been honest with ourselves and we hold things back that need to come out.

Maya Angelou explains it like this: “There is no greater agony than an untold story inside of you.”

 We have to remember that our story is significant and that we are created by a God who is writing the grand narrative. Our story is a part of the reconciliation of human relationship.

 As I got older, this tactic of holding things back, pretending, and bursting at the seams did not work on other people. In college, I had a friend who learned early on that I was hiding how I really felt and wouldn’t let me pretend. She forced me to be honest with myself and with her.

And opening up was completely freeing.

This was the beginning of building true relationships in my life. Yes, I had to be honest about not only the good parts of life, but also the parts that were messy and ugly. And even though this was difficult, I began to understand more of who I really am.

And as I began to be more confident in myself, it became easier to share my story with other people and ultimately started building healthy relationships with friends and my boyfriend (now husband).

Knowing our stories and being able to share them confidently will benefit both you and the people who are hearing it. But it takes time and trust to be able to do this well.

If you think about it, this is one of the reasons why relationships are messy. Two people who have parts of themselves they are ashamed of, parts of themselves they don’t even know and parts they have never shared with anyone else. In order to be in healthy relationships, we have to know our story, own it and share it with all of the good and the bad and the messy.

Relationships are lived out through our shared stories.

As you learn to share your story with people you trust, you begin to understand more of who you really are. You start to see what is important to you, if there have been any unhealthy patterns in your life, and what have been some of your darkest times.

Having confidence in who you are and accepting the messy parts of yourself makes it possible for you to accept other people for who they are. It also makes it possible for you to give other people grace because you know first hand no one is perfect.

Until we are able to know our stories, and allow other people to be a part of them, we cannot love other people well. Knowing our true identity, accepting our story and sharing it with others is the beginning of building true relationships with other people and living a true and honest life.

 Don’t be afraid to tell your story. It’s the beginning of something beautiful that plays a crucial chapter of this grand narrative.

Relationships…

This summer our offices will be researching, studying, and looking at the beauty, complexity, and chaos that relationships bring. Most of our study will be around dating and how this fairly new concept is changing for today’s teens. As we started compiling resources our social media coordinator pointed me towards a blog that her friend, Holly Clark, writes on pleasepassthetea.com. One specific entry caught her eye. Enjoy!

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“Finding a balance between spending time with the person you are dating and trying to build community with others is not an easy task. Jeremy and I started dating our freshman year of college. As you know, if you have gone to college, this year especially is complicated in itself.

Jeremy and I were trying to navigate a very new relationship while trying to find genuine friendship. Unfortunately, I didn’t want people thinking Jeremy and I were just your typical “high school sweet-hearts” so I tended to focus more on friends than I did on our relationship.

But soon, my relationship with Jeremy suffered and we struggled to find a good balance. So, I started inviting Jeremy to join in on my time with my friends, and my friends loved him. I began to trust others with our relationship and it was such a joy to have people support us together. This was the beginning of why community became such a crucial part of our lives together.

Relationships have always been important to me. I desire genuine, intentional relationships and love bringing people together. And I knew that my relationship with Jeremy was a gift from God; ultimately I knew we could be a couple who loves people well and brings others into our relationship.

So, throughout college and our dating life, we went through a very consistent cycle of wanting to build community and struggling to find a balance of time alone and time with people. We seemed to always choose to be with others.

Our view of community has changed significantly since college. While at Whitworth University, awesome people were just always around. It wasn’t a struggle to find intentional people and we didn’t have to trust God. Now that I am graduated, I know community is way more than just people you think like you do; it is dependent on Jesus Christ being the head of the body.

Before, I was completely dependent on my own ability to be a good girlfriend and friend. And now, I know that in order to have a healthy community, Christ has to be the focus. Since Jeremy and I have been married, we have come to realize that without Christ being our focus, we cannot have a healthy relationship, and if we aren’t healthy together, we cannot be healthy in community.

I have learned not to try to please others because I cannot. I have learned not to try to put others before my husband because he is my main priority. And I have learned to trust that God is going to provide community in my life because true relationship is a gift from God. I have been blessed by people who support my marriage and remind me why having people in our life is so important. I have spent countless nights at the dinner table with a group of people that I love, sharing their hearts over a great meal. And I have shed countless tears over relationships that have hurt me.

In the end, all of these things are gifts from God. We are called to love our neighbor and I believe this means being intentional with the people that God puts in our path. For me that means loving my husband first, loving the people around me and continuing to live into community because I believe I am called to bring people together. I have learned a lot about the complexity of relationships and I know I will continue to pursue, fail, cry and find meaning in loving others.”